"We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers… (Justin Sullivan, Getty…)
Just a few weeks ago, Apple executives were on stage during the iPhone 5 launch event in San Francisco touting the company's new in-house Maps app, which includes turn-by-turn directions, voice integration and a 3-D "flyover" feature.
But once the software was released, the backlash was swift and severe.
It got so bad that Chief Executive Tim Cook acknowledged Friday that Apple "fell short" with the homegrown app, which replaced Google Inc.'s popular Maps app on iOS 6 devices including the new iPhone 5.
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In a letter posted on the company's website, Cook apologized for the maligned app and, in a rare move, encouraged users to find alternatives while the company worked to fix the software's numerous flaws.
"We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better," he said.
The Maps app is the reason many Apple users have refused to upgrade to the iOS 6 operating system on earlier-generation devices and has also caused some to hold off on buying the iPhone 5 right away.
"It's obviously broken, obviously subpar to Google's offering. It didn't feel like a finished product — it felt half-baked and it felt rushed," said Alec Henderson, 25, a Los Angeles marketing associate who recently upgraded his iPhone 4 to iOS 6. "It's very uncharacteristic for Apple."
Shares of Apple fell $14.22, or 2.1%, to $667.10 on Friday. They have declined nearly 5% since the iPhone 5 release Sept. 21.
Users have criticized the new app's poor directions, inaccurate information and lack of support for public transportation. Side-by-side comparisons of major cities including Tokyo and Mumbai, India, revealed rich displays of information from Google but sparse, almost rural landscapes from Apple.
The app also showed a Buenos Aires train station located in the center of a raging river, cars that appear to be melted into the ground in Las Vegas and an apocalyptic depiction of the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Bridge.
While Apple works to improve the app, Cook urged users to try other options and even pointed them to the company's competitors.
"You can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their Web app," he said.
So far, more than 100 million iOS devices are using the new Apple Maps, and in just more than a week, people have already searched for nearly half a billion locations using it, he added.
Tech analysts said Apple created its own Maps app as part of the Cupertino, Calif., company's desire to have a tighter ecosystem of software, especially for key apps that consumers use frequently.
"They want to have more control," said James Ragan, an analyst at Crowell, Weedon & Co. "And it probably has to do with not relying on Google so much."
Google's Maps app has been a feature on the iPhone since the original device launched in 2007.
For Google's part, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said this week that Apple users shouldn't expect to get the Google Maps app back any time soon.
"In my opinion it would have been better to retain our maps," he reportedly told reporters in Tokyo. "It's their decision, I'll let them describe it."
The fiasco echoes another one of Apple's iPhone-related gaffes.
Two years ago, in what became known as Antennagate, the company wrote a letter to customers after reports that iPhone 4 users were having trouble making calls because of an antenna flaw. Although then-CEO Steve Jobs didn't directly apologize for the issue, the company called a press conference and announced it would give iPhone 4 customers free bumpers and cases for their devices.
Despite the current complaints, many users said the Maps issue was just one small problem for a phone that overall performed very well.
And Scott Thompson, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said he didn't anticipate poor reviews for Apple's Maps app to affect sales of the iPhone 5, which sold a record 5 million units in its first three days of sales. Cook's letter, he said, was "a classic example of crisis control."
"If you're a corporate exec and you have a PR issue on your hands, you have to come clean, and Tim is doing that," he said. "Now he has to execute and he has to fix it."
Times staff writer Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report.